Friday, March 4, 2016

What kind of people should we try to be?

At the moment this is a place holder for something longer I want to write. What I'm feeling my way toward here is an answer to the question, "What kind of people should we try to be?" and the closely related question, "What kind of people should we want to be?"

For me, scripture offers much in the way of answers. For instance, Alma 7:23-24 offers the following:
 And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.
 And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works. 
I have to admit that one reason I've asked myself the questions is the troubling display of qualities very different from these we've witnessed recently in the public arena. Last night a political debate took place that was in some ways the distressing culmination of several weeks--to an extent, several months--of public discourse that has descended to a level not seen in US presidential campaigns for generations.

Earlier yesterday, Mitt Romney--a good man I've had a handful of conversations with in the past but for whom I did not vote four years ago (I voted for another good man)--described and condemned traits that are virtually the opposite of those listed in the scripture I've quoted:
  • Bullying
  • Greed
  • Showing off
  • Misogyny
  • Absurd third-grade antics
I could add to that list mockery of the disabled, stubborn defensiveness, taking pleasure in humiliating, insulting, attacking, and punishing others, and insistence on always being right and always getting one's way. (For Romney's full speech, see or watch it here:

We all have faults, and we've been commanded not to judge--or as some translations would put it, not to condemn or not to judge unrighteously. At the same time, we all need to be clear about what constitutes good character and civil behavior and what does not. At the very least, we can invite others as well as ourselves to engage in self-examination, to acknowledge our faults, to seek to become aware of those that we're not aware of, and to desire and try to change. The scriptural language for that project is humility and repentance, and scripture teaches that we can't experience the change we need without divine help.

We also need to seek for good character and civil behavior in political leaders and other public officials. We must not celebrate bullying, mockery, hatred, or strutting self-importance that tries to pass itself of as "leadership." Certainly, we need strength in our leaders. But true strength is very different from being a "tough guy" or thinking other people will do whatever you order them to do or threatening people who don't comply.

Amazingly, scripture again provides the perfect response to such a misconception:
 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.

 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile (Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-42)
So it appears that ignorance, unkindness, cunning, and the unwillingness to listen or learn do not constitute true leadership, and neither do the will to dominate, the desire to intimidate and humiliate, or other elements of the tough guy persona.

Being a tough guy is not among the qualities we are advised to look for in a leader:
 Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil. (Doctrine and Covenants 98:10)
We're also told we "cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous" (Doctrine and Covenants 10:37). But we need to do our best, especially in selecting public officials, to look for the qualities of honesty, wisdom, and moral goodness. And we need to cultivate those qualities in ourselves--because if we don't have them, we'll be less likely to discern them in others, or to be aware of their opposite, even when it's staring us in the face.